Call it the true driving force behind Erik Schrody, a.k.a. Everlast.
Snacking on a sandwich before a show in Vancouver, he’s going through reasons why his third solo record, Eat at Whitey’s (Tommy Boy), has so many more folk-inspired numbers than rap tracks. There’s the “people responded so well to the ones I wrote for the last record” reason. Then there’s the “I’ve been rapping for 12 years. … I want to explore the other side of things” reason. But really that’s all too easy—standard rock-guy talk for the market and my record label made me do it. The real reason Everlast has been playing hardcore troubadour rather than reveling in his hip-hop roots:
“Well, it’s a lot easier to sing the panties off a girl than rap the panties off a broad. That’s for damn sure,” he says, laughing.
It seems to be working—at least metaphorically. Everlast’s cement-mixer rasp and sincere songs of hardship and self-discovery have turned the once tough B-boy into a musical John Travolta—basically, he’s an old-school comeback kid. Despite scoring a huge hit in ’92 with “Jump Around,” his band, the Irish-infused rap group House of Pain, would go down as a one-hit wonder, eventually crumbling four years later. By ’97 Everlast was attempting to get his career back on track, recording an album with a friend in New York. During the sessions, he suffered a massive heart attack due to a congenital defect, forcing doctors to perform bypass surgery and implant an artificial valve.
For most people that would be enough. But Everlast went ahead and released Whitey Ford Sings the Blues in ’98. Initially, the record didn’t do that well. “The first week Whitey Ford came out it only sold 3,000 copies,” Everlast says. “I was like, ‘Oh well, I guess I missed that one.’” But once radio got hold of “What It’s Like,” things changed. Equal parts traditional blues storytelling and hip-hopped pop, the harsh tale about three misfits put down by society quickly climbed up the charts. It was the boost Whitey Ford needed, the single helping to propel the record to the million-sold mark. The irony: Everlast had had bits of the song lying around since the House of Pain days.
“I’ve always played guitar for relaxation, but I never recorded any of those songs until Whitey Ford,” Everlast explains. “House of Pain was doing fine on its own. It didn’t need anything like that.”
But obviously Everlast needed something else besides House of Pain. He found it in Islam, converting just before he left the group. He says it helped him realize a lot of things. “It forced me to be honest with myself and believe these things,” Everlast says. “It lead me to realize I was unhappy and had to leave the band I was in. I needed to be happy. House of Pain did some great things. But there was this image to uphold and I couldn’t always do it. Sometimes I only had enough energy to be that guy three days a week. The other four days it wasn’t working for me. Now I have to be honest with myself, and I think I’m doing that.”
That honesty comes out in Eat at Whitey’s. Not quite evenly split between Everlast’s polar worlds—folk and hip-hop—Whitey’s comes off like a Tom Waits’ Mule Variations after a Dr. Dre remix. Rap tracks like “Deadly Assassins,” complete with a guest appearance by Cypress Hill’s B-Real, slam into more melancholic and mellow numbers like “Babylon Feeling.” Even though Whitey’s seems like a sonic Sybil, a subtle undercurrent connects it all: mortality and survival. Most of Everlast’s stories deal with overcoming something, be it society (“Black Jesus”) or a gunshot wound (“Children’s Story”). The reason: Whitey’s is the first time Everlast has been able to talk about his own survival tale. “This is the first batch of songs I’ve written since the heart attack,” Everlast says. “I really got to get some of those things out of me. This was the first time I really got to say these things.”
Everlast also considers the album his most cohesive to date. He doesn’t see two different worlds colliding; for him the blending of hip-hop and old-school blues is as natural as slapping together peanut butter and jelly. “The root of everything I do, even the songwriting stuff—it all has drums and a boogie behind it,” Everlast says. “One of the things about my tracks is that you can strip away all the lyrics in a song and all the guitars and still find a beat you can rap to. No matter how far I stray from original hip-hop, it’s still at the root of what I do.
“But there’s only so much emotion you can put in a rap,” Everlast continues. “With songs like these, you’re building them from the ground up-musically, lyrically. With hip-hop you’re delivered a track and you rap on it—which is cool. But with this you get to sit down with another cat and bring it all together. That’s why I like doing this so much.”
Yet even with all the success Everlast has had, he’s still nervous about what he does. Playing guitar and singing smoky songs doesn’t come as natural as giving shout-outs and jumpin’ around. Sure, Everlast says he can pull it off; he’s played in front of thousands of people before. But he says it’s not the stadiums that get him. It’s the little clubs where you can see the whites of the audience’s eyes.
“The smaller the crowd, the harder it is. You really need to catch their attention. You have to look those people in the eye the whole time. With 10,000 people in a stadium, you could be looking at someone the whole show and they’d never know it. Sitting in a room with a few friends is more nerve-racking for me. Here it is again: Can you sing the panties off of some broad? You sure can’t do that in a stadium.”
Everlast opens for the Wallflowers at Kingsbury Hall, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 7:30 p.m. Tickets available through Smith’sTix: 467-TIXX, 800-888-TIXX and www.SmithTix.com.